I read often. My kid swears I have ADD and this plays out in the reading choices I make. Blogs, articles, even forums (*gasp*) catch my eye. I’ll admit the incessant drip of things to read online lures me even though I’m always better off when I sit still and read things not attached to a cable. This year I made a choice to switch things up and read offline. In other words, I’m going back to reading *actual books*.
But where to start?
Well, seeing as the FTC needs disclaimers, we’ll toss one out before we dive in. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This is at no additional cost to you. Opinions are my own.
Somewhere along this short-burst, binge-reading route I ran across a comment about a salacious book, The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World by Catherine Nixey. And I did what anyone in the digital era does when reading on their phone: I took a screenshot so I’d remember it.
“Salacious? Really, now?” you say.
Yes, salacious – and spicy, scandalous, exciting and all those other preloaded synonyms that come with Word. Think about the second half of the title for a moment; The Christian Destruction of the Classical World. Narrow that down to just the second and third words. Those, alone, call for attention. In my part of the world, it’s hard for anyone to consider Christianity destroying anything, and if it does, well then, “it’s God’s will” as they say. The flip side is the concept of “Christian persecution” in my country really is a “thing” for those living in the Bible Belt. Seriously. Ask them. They’ll tell you they are persecuted. Right here. Right now. On this very Southern soil.
To be fair, Christian persecution (heck, religious persecution, in general) has and still does exist in pockets across the globe. As The Darkening Age points out, Christians were both the subjects and sources of such behavior. But in my home country, the USA, campaigning and voting often walk hand in hand with “Jesus.” Politician after politician work to pass the Christian litmus test. And, yes, this also includes those in blue, not just red.
Don’t believe me? Ah, you don’t live in the South, do you? Or other conservative pockets of the country.
Removing prayer from school, to some, is an abomination. (Separation of Church and State, anyone? No matter.) This group also wants and works for the Bible to be taught in schools. Alongside other religious texts, you say? Nope, just the Bible. I could go on but there is a book review in here somewhere and we’re gonna dig it out.
I’ll be honest, when I presented this book to the librarian to check out I was a bit self-conscious. Would they judge me? Would the next person in line thrust their hand in their pocket and retrieve a tract, commanding I read it first? After all, my very soul may already be at stake after touching that text! Maybe the cartoon laden pamphlet about hell will convince me to put it back?
That didn’t happen. It’s a library. They have numerous books covering countless topics. And I lived to tell the tale.
If y’all know me at all you know I am a nerd. I love me some classical history and archaeology. Learning how people lived, thought, believed is fascinating to me. Yet finding unbiased books on certain subjects is an archaeological feat in and of itself, especially Christian history books. This is why this book initially appealed to me.
I mention this because I strive to understand what ancient history is truly about. And I want to learn about the early years of Christianity, the faith of my childhood, from secular sources. Is The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World by Catherine Nixey unbiased? I honestly can’t say. I don’t know the author. I don’t know what truly drove her to produce the book. I can say that devout Christians will likely find offense to parts of it. It will challenge how you view the earlier days of Christianity as well as how it effectively spread.
Plus it has pictures of paintings and stories from the likes of Pompeii that are, ahem, not for the little ones, shall we say? Those, alone, will challenge even some adult readers. Again, it’s history, y’all, and people did the deed back then, too.
Whether or not there is anti-Christian bias in this book is not my game to sort out. What is captivating is the large amount of citations and other source material referred to in the book. In The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World Catherine Nixey paints a picture of life during the time Christianity was on the rise. We do see how some Christians were, indeed, brutally persecuted. But we also see how they left a swath of destruction that echoes into today. As someone who would love to go back in time and visit the library of Alexandria, book burning and the obscene erasure of ancient culture and art is downright shameful.
As a former fundamentalist reading this book I do understand how the erasure of culture and items was understood to be “necessary.” Or, in layman’s terms, these things were considered “demonic” and if left as they were, problematic, to say the least. Nixey does a wonderful job explaining this mindset and showing how it played out in history. Back then as in some pockets today it’s all about defeating demons and living worthy of god. And, in some circles, this sometimes includes immense amounts of destruction of things that displease him.
Don’t believe me?
I was raised in the Satanic Panic era where people really did throw record albums into pyres. I know people who did that. I didn’t – but I did get rid of cassette tapes that did not “honor god.” (Yeah, I think I’ll switch to using the little “g” here.) So when I read the passages of Christians ransacking homes and pulling out books, tossing them into flames I winced.
Think of the wonders of the world we try and analyze today including the great pyramids. Could the plans for those projects be among texts that were destroyed? Did you know great strides were made in science and medicine back then but eventually destroyed? Think of what we would know today if these texts endured? Maybe strides in the medical field would be such that loved ones would be here a bit longer due to advances in medicine lost to time that have taken centuries to recoup?
Of course, this is conjecture but it is a thought worth pondering.
Nixey’s use of creative nonfiction throughout the book is welcome as it renders the tome an enjoyable read. It’s helpful to imagine ourselves stepping back into the time periods she discusses. She also introduces us to lesser known individuals whose stories, such as Hypatia’s, are important and shocking to those of us raised in certain religious bubbles. She also mentions the likes of Nero, nefarious no matter your world view. Again, this book doesn’t always pelt Christians who destroyed historical knowledge; it exposes those against Christianity who did damage, too.
There is much more to the book than what I’ve included in my review of The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World and it’s always best if you go to the source and read it for yourself, isn’t it? Hers isn’t just a story of the past; it’s a story of how that past influences the present. In some ways it works as a cautionary tale for any religion or cause working to delete all evidence of any and every thing that runs counter to one’s worldview.
Would I recommend The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World by Catherine Nixey? It depends. For some, I truly do believe it will be a bit much. For others, it works as a liberating view into a storied past that needs more unbiased light shed upon it, not less. And this light must penetrate into Christian corners as well as so-called “pagan.”
Shelf notes: The binding is dark, unlike the cover, which can make it elusive to find on the shelf.